knife skils

Knife work

The LEAST You Need to Know

Have you heard of the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle? I first heard it from someone talking about Tim Ferris, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek.

The 80/20 rule posits that 80 percent of your productivity comes from 20 percent of your effort.  The other 80 of your time is spent chasing down that other meager 20 percent. Crazy right?

It's a powerful insight for efficiency. But the key is to know which 20% to focus on. That's what I'm about to show you when it comes to Chop.

I'm teaching you the LEAST you need to know to get the job done.

One Knife, Two Skills

There is only one knife you need for 100% of your meal preppery (and  90% of all your cooking endeavors) and only two skills you need to master.

Say Hello to The Big Knife

CHEFS KNIFE
CHEFS KNIFE

The Chef’s Knife is big and bold and a lot of people shy away from it because it looks intimidating. For you, that ends today.

A Chef’s Knife is eight to ten inches long. The blade extends downward from the handle so that you can chop things up without banging your fingers.

Choose Your Weapon

You probably already have a Chef’s Knife, they come with every knife set. If you don’t, remedy that situation pronto.

Your Chef’s Knife does not need to be expensive to get the job done. A piece of steel sharpened into a blade will defeat tomatoes every time.

Your Chef’s Knife should feel good and balanced in your hand. If you pick it up and feel like “Yeah, I’m about to chop some sh#t up!” that’s your Chef’s Knife.

Cutting Boards

Meat eaters need two cutting boards: One for produce, which can be wood or plastic.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 1.26.40 PM

And a non-porous plastic or stone cutting board for meats.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 1.27.14 PM

Your Knife Work

There are two –and only two– knife skills you need to know for everyday food prep: Chopping and Mincing. Your fancy cuts, your chiffonade or your julienne, that's on your own time. Here, we get things done.

Chopping is for main ingredients. Think bite-size pieces.

Mincing is for seasonings. Think sprinkly bits.

How To Chop

Hold your Chef’s Knife with a good firm grip. I like to choke up on it and literally pinch the blade with my thumb and forefinger.

 

Put the tip down. Push through. Pull back. Repeat. That’s your chopping motion.

 

Your other hand forms a claw to hold the items down.Fold your fingertips and press down on the item so that your fingers bend to form a straight line between your middle and first knuckles. This is your knife guard.

 

Thumb behind the fingertips. ALWAYS.

Never like this…

 

Bring the two motions together; hold the item with your claw while slicing through with your chopping motion.

 

How to Mince

Knife tip down.The other hand goes safely on top. Rock it up and down through the item. Work it back and forth in a semi-circle. Keep going until the item is nice and sprinkly.

 

LONG-FORM VIDEO

If you want to see a near feature-length film I made on the subject, check out this video.

 

WHAT SIZE TO CUT THINGS?

How thin you cut affects how long it takes to cook. The thicker the cut the longer it takes. The thinner, the quicker.

Practice making uniform cuts. Uniform cuts means uniform thickness which means uniform cooking time. This way no little burnt bits get mixed up with uncooked pieces. When it's uniform you only need to poke test one cut piece to tell if they are all done.

That said, don't go all A-Type personality on me and get out your ruler and razor to shave everything down to the exact millimeter. Get it roughly in the ballpark and you'll be fine. Here's a TIP. If you rough chop your stuff, cook it up and things don't cook uniformly, call it RUSTIC and people will think it's gourmet.

Here are some good rules of thumb, or rather, finger for your cuts.

  • The width of one finger is a good size for most bite-size pieces.
  • The DENSITY of the item matters. Root vegetables cut half the width of soft veggies (half a finger-wide for root vs a finger-wide for soft), will cook through at roughly the same time. If you cut everything the same width, expect the root veggies to take longer to cook in the Poke phase. It's just something to note.
  • Leafy greens wilt down once cooked so there's no point in giving them anything but a rough chop.
  • When cutting meats, portion off the entire serving first, then decide if you want to cut it up further.

Reasons to cut your meat down to bite-size slices before cooking:

  • It will cook faster
  • More surface area to coat with seasonings.
  • No use for a knife when eating it later. Think salads, stir-fry and wraps.

Reasons NOT to cut your meat down before cooking:

  • Keep the juices in.
  • Less chance of overcooking. Thick cuts are more forgiving.
  • You can always slice up your cooked meats after cooking.

No right or wrong reasons to cut meat before or after you cook; it's just preference.

the more you chop, the better you get

The only way to get badass with your chef's knife skills is to practice, practice, practice. Having a weekly 2-hour meal prep routine is an excellent way to get in a lot of practice in short order. Happy chopping!